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LOCAL ESCAPES

At the heart of the Wild Coast are its people and their invaluable local knowledge

At the heart of the Wild Coast are its people and their invaluable local knowledge
Nguni cows on a beach in Transkei with homesteads in the hills in the background are a typical scene awaiting walkers. (Photo: iStock)

An 80km walk along the coastline and adjacent interior of the Wild Coast becomes an unforgettable experience in the hands of a local guide who has intimate knowledge of its sights, sounds and rich cultural heritage.

The Transkei, and especially its coastline, has always been alluring to me. I am from Gqeberha originally, yet I never explored this adjacent area in my youth. Well, my time had come: I invested in a guided six-day hike and soon I was well on my way to whittling down my bucket list.

Lo and behold, the itinerary allowed me to tick off quite a few items on it. These included a brief visit to Lusikisiki, passing through the Magwa Tea Estate and viewing the Magwa — and other — waterfalls on the way to Mbotyi, our first overnight stay.

But this story is not just about the beauty of the Transkei and its coastline from Mbotyi in the west to the Wild Coast Sun in the east. 

Tutani Mpunga, Transkei

Tutani Mpunga, the guide who led the walk, sharing his extensive local knowledge along the way. (Photo: Supplied)

Don’t get me wrong, it is a gem in itself, but the more important gem in our group of 10 intrepid explorers was our guide, Tutani Mpunga, 37, who we collected by arrangement during our passage through Lusikisiki.

Initially, Mpunga came across as quite soft-spoken and almost conservative, but as we made our way to Mbotyi he opened up, blossomed and masterfully tattooed his excellent knowledge on our city-jaded brains. 

He started sharing his local knowledge and his Mpondoland persona in everything he told us about the sights, sounds and smells we were experiencing. He made his mark on our minds and psyche.

Hiking demarcated trails is usually a matter of heads down and feet shuffling, dragging and stepping along the reasonably well-beaten track. In this case, there were multiple cattle tracks that we followed and, if we were on our own, we would very likely have been lost on the first day.

In snippets and titbits, Mpunga made us alive to the Mpondo people, their history and their traditions. 

His story is that he and his natural surroundings fell in love with each other, such that, as much as the Wild Coast is his office, he still goes out every day to look at it with new eyes, ready to learn.

We saw so many sites of interest, too many to expound on in typed words. To whet your appetite, here are a few by name only: Fraser Falls and other spectacular sites on the coast between Mbotyi and the Msikaba, followed by the Mtentu River. Before this is Waterfall Bluff, the Cathedral Rock formations and spectacular sights of two waterfalls ending up directly in the sea (there are only a few such, worldwide). 

Larry and Brexit the dog, Transkei

Larry and Brexit, the dog that was being rescued, after crossing a river in a canoe. (Photo: Supplied)

We also passed through the Mkambati Nature Reserve. We crossed rivers in canoes, the Mtentu being the widest, ending at a lodge. We did both crossings with Brexit — a dog we were rescuing by returning him to his owner at Mtentu.

There were several other sites, including shipwrecks and points of historical interest on the 80km walk. For example, Port Grosvenor, where the Grosvenor had sunk, the Xolobeni Red Dunes and a jump off the rocks at a spectacular pool below a waterfall in the nature reserve. Mpunga ably demonstrated the latter before some others of our party followed.

His rich knowledge of the local history and lore, as well as his knowledge of the dangers facing the environment and, not least, his deep activist nature related to this, was impressive.


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After completing his schooling at Ntafufu Senior Secondary School in Lusikisiki, this self-employed entrepreneur and activist did various types of training in preparation for carrying out his job.

He displayed excellent tracking skills and sharp eyes for flora and fauna, pointing these out to us regularly. We would have been so oblivious to this, were we on our own. His extensive training involved certification and registration as a field guide. He also spent time at game farms in the Karoo and the Lowveld in the company and under the tutelage of master trackers. 

He graduated in 2011 at the South African College for Tourism.

Aside from these learned skills, Mpunga has a deep sense of pride and a fierce determination to protect the Mpondo way of life, its people and its environment. 

One of his goals is to improve ecotourism in the area. The Xolobeni Red Dunes are an example of such, where he showed us remnants and shards of pottery of people who lived there hundreds of years ago. 

He also explained the potentially disruptive sand mining for titanium and other rare earth metals along this pristine coast. 

Beach on the Wild Coast

An endless blue sky frames a beach on the Wild Coast. (Photo: iStock)

Mpunga contextualised this in the somewhat toxic mix of politics, greed, misrepresentation and its potential to upset a way of life that has long been developed. There is much resistance to this mining, and it has even led to assassinations.

These gritty realities aside, we learned about the rich traditions, history and culture that are preserved in this region. 

We visited the seaside homestead owned by the late Khotso Sethuntsa, a wealthy African herbalist who, oral history tells us, was renowned for the miracles he performed with water spirits at the river pools in the vicinity. 

Mpunga shared how the traditional way of life was constantly under threat and how he and others held the view that ecotourism was a means to sustain the lifestyle without destroying what remains of the heritage along this coastline.

Numerous bird species were named and shards of pottery from earlier inhabitants of the area were pointed out, especially on the last day of the walk. Fossils embedded in the coastal dunes and shoreline, including petrified logs and trees, made up the rich panoply of the history and geology of the area.

As we ended the walk, it was heart-warming to see a group of children, in neat uniforms, from a local primary school. A friend of Mpunga was guiding them. 

The group that Tutani Mpunga guided

The group that Tutani Mpunga guided pose for a photograph at Cathedral Rock near Mbotyi. (Photo: Supplied)

They too were being shown the riches of this section of the coast by their own guide — a meeting of minds in more ways than one.

When the walk ended, though we were sad, it was an upbeat moment thanks to all we absorbed and learned with Mpunga’s help. He plies his unique trade by servicing organised walks as well as contracting out to private parties. 

He proved an excellent ambassador for the guide trade as well as for his beloved Wild Coast and adjacent interior. Mpunga, and other guides doing such sterling work, are hidden gems who need to sparkle. DM168

Mpunga can be contacted on WhatsApp on 0734800253 or emailed at [email protected]

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.

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